I never knew my son could be victim of herdsmen killing –Father of AAU undergraduate killed by suspected herds – Punchng

Alexander Okere

Festus Ojeriakhi, a father of eight, sat gloomily at the entrance of his family house surrounded by sympathisers with whom he had hitherto chatted happily about politics, community development and communal opportunities. Even the weather reflected the mood of Oyomon quarters, Ineme-Ugboha, an agrarian community in Esan South-East Local Government Area of Edo State, when Saturday PUNCH visited the family.

Although attacks by armed men suspected to be herdsmen were not new to the residents of the community, the March 16 onslaught, which cut short the life of his 18-year-old son, Collins, was unprecedented. It all happened like a scene from a horror movie. Collin had left the house to run an errand in Uromi, shortly after returning home from the Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, where he was a first-year student of Banking and Finance. He had bid his father good-bye, promising to return as early as he could in order to get enough rest and prepare to join the family in the farm the following morning. Collins did return from Uromi. He never got home.

On his way, he met the herdsmen with a lot of cattle. He was on a motorcycle with his friends. So, on getting to Edoha river area, they received gunshots. He died, the person immediately behind him died and the third one had a serious injury. Festus, a worker at the Local Education Authority in Ubiaja, said.

“The two died on the spot; the third person is still receiving treatment. My son was shot in the chest and he was the person riding the motorcycle,” he added with an air of sadness.

On the same day, another boy (a friend to Collins) who was on a separate motorcycle was shot and wounded by the same suspected herdsmen. The mother of the boy and Festus were neighbours in the village. In fact, Festus was roused from his house by the noise made by the youngster’s mother from the next house. The news as announced by the grieving mother of the shooting victim sent shivers down Festus’ spine as he had hoped that alarm raised by his neighbour would turn out to be false.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that the lad later died in his mother’s arms after efforts to save his life proved abortive.

Festus explained, “I was at home. It was the mother of his injured friend that came shouting that herdsmen had shot his son and he had been rushed to the hospital. So, I came out. I realised that the boy and my son had left the house together. So, I asked about the whereabouts of my son but nobody could give me an answer.

“I came back home, gathered some boys, gave them my car and told them to go and look for him. Within a short time, they came back to confirm that my son was dead and that the police had taken his body to a nearby mortuary at Ugboha, I went there and discovered that my son was really dead.”

He was apparently fond of his late son as he spoke glowingly about the time they shared together.

Gazing at the ceiling of his sitting room, he said, “Although he was the last of my sons as he had three elder brothers, even with his age, I was already building hope on him and what he would become in future. He was very hard-working and obedient. He was an errand runner; he helped me a lot in farming. The boy (Collins) would use the motorcycle to carry cassava for me from the farm four times in a day. He was very cool-headed, quiet and did not cause trouble.

He continued, “It is unfortunate that I lost him. I had even started clearing my farm, hoping that when he came home after his first semester, he would help me. It was because of him that I tried to extend my farm. He was still growing with a lot of stamina and he loved school and farming. We used to farm together before I lost him.”

“My joy has been stolen. I am only managing. He sat the Senior School Certificate Examination and Universal Tertiary Matriculation Examination in 2017 and passed all. So, he never wasted any year and I did not spend one naira to facilitate his admission. So, he was a brilliant child.”

Festus told Saturday PUNCH that though he had been hearing news of deaths caused by bandits, alleged to be herdsmen, in different states of the federation, he had no inkling that his family would be next victim.

“Nobody thought that such a thing would happen. Personally, whenever I heard news of killings by Fulani herdsmen, I always felt sad. But all of a sudden, it is me that they (suspected herdsmen) have started with in Ugboha. That is why I am badly touched about it.”

Collins’ demise has left the family distraught as neither his siblings nor mother could speak to Saturday PUNCH  when our reporter visited; not even a visit by Governor Godwin Obaseki was enough to console them on their irreparable loss.

“The governor and I sat down and I commended his efforts because I am not the only one who has ever lost a child. The governor consoled me and told me that he would ensure that the security of this community was airtight. He also said that he would compensate the family with one million naira. Some days later, someone called me to say that the money was already in my account. But I have not seen it,” Festus said.

“I have buried my child in my compound because he was very young and my body cannot take the ordeal of continuous mourning. His death was sudden, so I had to bury him to have a rest of mind,” he added.

Although the police said that one suspect had been arrested in connection with the incident, in line with the governor’s order to security agencies to fish out the culprits, Festus said that more needed to be done to give justice to the bereaved family, noting that murderers of his son, who also killed his dream of alleviating the suffering of his aged parents, cannot be pardoned.

He stated, “He (Collins) used to assure me that he would become a banker so that I would not suffer again and I believed him. I was full of hope until I heard of his untimely death.

When he was asked whether he had forgiven those who killed his son, the old man said he had accepted the loss, he however called on the authorities to ensure that justice is done at least to appease the soul of the departed.

“Forgiveness? If they (perpetrators) are caught, I do not have the authority to shoot them. But within me, there is no forgiveness for whoever killed my son; unfortunately, I have no action to back that. But I want justice. The government should handle the matter in way to serve as a lesson to others.”

For the Ojeriakhis, life would never remain the same as a piece of them had been forcefully taken away forever.

“It has been very stressful. I am the only one trying to make sure that normalcy returns to the house. My late son’s mother is still downcast. His siblings are also weighed down. I have lost weight and can hardly eat because of the shock.

“It is really painful but I pray to God to strengthen me to be able to cater for the rest of my children,” he added.

 “I miss everything about him, especially when I want someone to run errands for me or when I want to go to my farm. When I have a job to do in my farm and have five or six persons to do the job, he (Collins) would take them on a motorcycle to the farm two or three times and bring them back.

“But now, I do not know who would do that. He provided a lot of assistance for his mother and me. When he left for school, his mother and I suffered because we were looking for who would run errands. So, I miss him so much.”

While the Ojeriakhis and other affected families continue to mourn their loss, residents of Ugboha told Saturday PUNCH that they had been living in fear and abandoned their farms following the tragedy.

One of them, Mr. Peter Momoh, alleged that some farmers had been attacked by the suspected herdsmen, who also destroyed their cash crops.

Momoh, who is also an elder brother to Festus, explained, “I want to send a message to President Muhammadu Buhari. It is said that it is the head that is alive that can wear a cap. I am pleading with the authorities to provide us with security. For now, our community is not safe.

“Many of our people cannot enter their farms because of the herdsmen. Right now, there is serious hunger in Ughoha. Anyone who goes to their farm leaves their family panicky because they do not know whether they would return home.

He continued, “They (herdsmen) go to people’s farms and destroy them. When they pack as much crops as they could, they use their machetes to chop the rest for their cattle to eat. What is our fate? So, I am pleading with the federal and state governments to give us security.”

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